The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Politicians at the Centre have a lexicon all their own. Thus the Bharatiya Janata Party, initially caught on the back foot by the new president’s decision to return the electoral reforms ordinance with certain basic questions, quickly termed these “technical clarifications”. Yet the questions of the president, Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, have little to do with trivial technicalities. The ordinance quite clearly contravenes the spirit of the Supreme Court directive of May 2, and completely neutralizes the measures recommended by the Election Commission to cleanse politics of criminalization. According to the court, voters have a right to know whether the candidates contesting the elections have a criminal past and what their assets and liabilities are. The entire political class united against making such declarations mandatory. There is an additional twist. The original draft contained a clause that disqualified candidates who had two separate charges against them under different courts for “heinous” crimes such as rape and murder. That too has been dropped from the ordinance. Evidently, politicians have too many murky interests at stake to allow this provision to be passed. The president’s questions were pointed enough, as pointed as his gesture of returning the ordinance. The Centre had another chance to redeem itself, to regain for itself and for all politicians some respect and prestige. But one hasty meeting later, the ordinance was back on the president’s table, accompanied by the attorney-general’s assurance that the president’s questions would be considered when the ordinance was turned into a bill before Parliament. This is a decisive move. Since the president cannot refuse to sign a second time, this is tantamount to saying that the ordinance will be rammed down the throats of all and sundry, whether it violates the rights of citizens or not.

Neither the Bharatiya Janata Party nor the National Democratic Alliance can be singled out for blame. The entire political class has aggressively come together to make sure that politics keeps on assiduously nurturing crime. It has heaped disgrace upon itself, first, by its determined blocking of recommended reforms and second, by its barefaced exhibition of disrespect for the Supreme Court, the EC and for the formal upholder of the Constitution. The immediate concern may be the forthcoming Jammu and Kashmir elections, therefore the ordinance. But the real concern is much more long-term. The president can, at most, indirectly remind the government of constitutional proprieties, he cannot refuse to sign a second time. By cynically using this constitutional practice, the government and its temporary friends have demolished a possibility of transparent and “clean” governance.

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